ideas for roles
Both teams should have:
Optional characters might include (but feel free to suggest others):
William Dean Howells: Editor of The Atlantic, which published some of the “tales.” Howells was a literary kingmaker and arbiter of the dominant literary style of “realism,” so playing Howells allows you to explore the way CC navigated literary culture and the important institution of the “quality” magazines that published serious fiction and lent prestige to writers.
George W. Cable: White “Local Color” writer from the South with liberal sensibility. Friend of CC who advised him on how to navigate the literary marketplace.
Walter Hines Page: Chesnutt’s editor at the Atlantic. This role would really let you get into the nitty-gritty of how CC navigated between his own artistic vision and the realities of readers’ expectations about blackness.
Reviewer: There is a wealth of reviews published in print form and available on the web. You could create a persona (give it a real name!) and weave together some real reviews of the “tales,” emphasizing how reviewing shapes the reception and reading of texts.
“General Reader”: you could “play” a reader, and thematize the pleasures of dialect and “plantation” fiction from the POV of a white reader, or perhaps a more ambivalent response from an African American reader, with a mix of “race pride” and [fill in the blank] about the problematic contours of the genre. You could also play a 21stC student, an African American person in the turn-of-the-century South, living and working on a plantation like Uncle Julius, or anything in between.
Visual Artist: using Wonham’s book on racial caricature in the magazine work of the period, you might play an artist responsible for illustrating the serial magazine publishing of the tales, inserting real drawings from Chesnutt’s publications in popular magazines in your posts, as well as the artist’s thoughts (perhaps ambivalent?) about racial representations in caricature.
Audiobook Actor/Producer: I can only find amateur audiorecordings of the tales, but what about playing a producer or voice actor in the audiobook world trying to publish a new audiobook version of the tales? How would they approach the issue of “eye dialect” in the new medium of the audiobook? How would they attempt to be respectful within the parameters set by plantation fiction? How might these issues fold back into those experienced by Chesnutt himself in the 1890s?
Other paratextual figures:
- W. E. B. Du Bois would be quite interesting and speculative, especially if you know something about his career.
- more recent critics of the tales, like Eric Sundquist or Joseph McElrath: the later edited much of CCs speeches, letters, and journals, so that would be interesting.
- A figure from the New Negro movement, like Alain Locke: interesting to think about the next generation’s reception of Chesnutt’s work.
Even wackier idea: you could play a character inside Julius’s tales. This positioning would allow you to push the postmodern, experimental aspects of the game, creating extravagant narrative play between textual “levels.”